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Minn. House Backs Cold-Tablet Ban

State aims to curb spread of meth labs

ST. PAUL, Minn. --The Minnesota House overwhelmingly passed a ban on some popular over-the-counter cold tablets last Thursday as part of a package to crack down on methamphetamine, said the Associated Press. The ban, which would go into effect by mid-2006, would pull all cold and allergy pills that contain pseudoephedrine, a crucial methamphetamine ingredient, from under consumers' noses. The only way to get the tablets would be to visit a doctor and get a written prescription.

Liquid and gel-cap versions of the medications would still be sold without [image-nocss] restrictions, although that could easily change if those forms of the drug are abused in the future.

Lawmakers are targeting tablets because they yield the pseudoephedrine used in homegrown meth labs. So far, lab busts in Minnesota have not shown that meth cooks are using liquid or gel-cap formulations of the cold medicines, according to the AP report.

The 127 to 4 vote for the meth package, which would also ratchet up sentences for making meth, reflected the reach of the highly addictive narcotic, which has caused crimes or meth-lab accidents in every corner of the state. The bill's sponsor, State Representative Jeff Johnson (R), said no other state legislature has gone as far as banning the cold remedies outright. This is by far the most significant meth bill that's ever passed out of any legislative body in the country, Johnson said after the vote. He also acknowledged that the final bill may look different.

The Senate last month unanimously voted to limit the sale of pseudoephedrine tablets, including Sudafed and Actifed, to pharmacies. That bill would also cap purchases at about eight packages a month and make customers show ID and sign a log before making a purchase. Johnson backed the same proposal going into Thursday's floor debate.

But Rep. Mike Charron (R) proposed banning the pills. He said liquids and gel-caps would still be available, as would a Sudafed version that does not contain pseudoephedrine. We can eliminate all the hassle for our pharmacies, Charron said. We have a dangerous drug that is being abused. We should ban in it Minnesota. I believe we should ban it in other states as well.

Currently, six states limit the sale of pseudoephedrine drugs to pharmacies, and seven others make retailers lock up the products or sell them from staffed counters. Legislatures in 22 states, including Minnesota, are considering similar restrictions.

The House bill was written to limit the tablets to pharmacies starting this summer. That would be trumped by the ban next year, unless the ban is tied up in the courts. The state Board of Pharmacy would also have the power to pull liquids and gel-caps containing pseudoephedrine back to pharmacies if authorities determine meth labs are using them.

The House defeated attempts to let convenience stores and groceries sell two-tablet packages of the cold remedies from behind staffed counters or in locked cases. We're not talking about a drug that saves your life or a drug that takes you out of great pain, said Rep. Tina Liebling (D). This is just a drug that opens up your nasal passages, folks. What is life or death is having these drugs available.

Johnson said he hopes the House and Senate can work out the differences in their bills fast enough to have new meth laws on the books by mid-May. The Senate has yet to vote on sentencing and other provisions contained in the House bill.

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